Perception & Illusion


Perception & Illusion

Therapists help clients detect what is in the foreground vs. what is in the background of their lives and assist them in discerning dynamic vs. static situations.  But sometimes foreground and background, the dynamic and the static, switch roles.  This causes confusion for clients and therapists alike.  In visual art terms this is about an unstable relationship between figure and ground or an unsteady balance between positive space and negative space.  And what would such a clinical conundrum look like if it were a drawing or a painting?  Op art.


Optical art is a matter of perception, as is an individual’s take on foreground vs. background issues and dynamic vs. static circumstances.  Whether you’re interested in mindfulness or cognitive neuroscience, perception is at the heart of your work with others.  Helping people become aware of their perceptions assists them in counterbalancing a tendency to become awash with their affect.  How does that work in the brain?  Simply put, perceptual processing focuses on the involvement of cortical structures while affective processing focuses on the involvement of subcortical structures.  The ability to synthesize perceptual experiences with affective experiences is necessary for whole brain integration and optimal functioning.


But back to op art.  Like clinical interventions that derive from Gestalt psychology and psychophysiology, op art doesn’t dwell on emotional expression.  It creates illusions of perspective and movement by manipulating perceptual attributes such as color, line, and shape.  Confusion between what a person sees and what a person thinks s/he sees is commonplace in op art as well as in therapy.  However, op art’s goal is to construct illusions while therapy’s goal is to deconstruct them.  Talk therapists do this through the medium of words, and art therapists do this through media that allow for the manipulation of perceptual attributes such as color, line, and shape (see the work of art therapy pioneer Janie Rhyne, for example).


For a brain break, here’s a brief video about op art.  You can examine its parallels to your experience as a therapist, or you can just enjoy it and learn from it (or re-learn from it, if you ever studied art)!  Unfortunately, the mesmerizing music fades out with 90 seconds of footage left, but art student Jamison Cook’s efforts are significant nonetheless.  Thanks for the lesson in perception and illusion, Jamison!



With appreciation for the important work you do,

Megan  August 2014

About the Image on This Page

This is a thumbnail of Public Domain Abstract Art,  which was posted to The Public Domain website by Mitch Featherston in 2012. Click here for more information.